The State of North Carolina is reneging on a promise to voters by even considering not building an N.C. National Guard Readiness Center in Wilkes County.
Politicians seeking passage of the $2 billion Connect NC bond referendum in 2016 said it included $70 million to build three regional Guard readiness centers, one apiece in Wilkes, Guilford and Burke counties. This commitment is in the Connect NC Act and voters statewide and in Wilkes passed the referendum. Each readiness center is for training hundreds of Guardsmen in multiple units. They’re being built in Burke and Guilford.
The North Wilkesboro commissioners approved donating 119 acres in the town industrial park on River Road/Liberty Grove Road for a readiness center. It was deeded to the state. Mark Bondo of the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management said $12.86 million is designated for the facility in Wilkes.
Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Matt Handley, N.C. Guard director of public affairs, said a final decision hasn’t been made on Guard plans in Wilkes while options are reviewed. Handley said options include renovating and expanding the existing Guard Armory on Armory Road here. He said not doing a Guard facility project in Wilkes isn’t a choice and that the option chosen will meet the intent of those who voted for issuance of the bonds.
North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore told him the Guard planned to renovate the existing Guard Armory instead of building a regional readiness center here, largely due to steep terrain of the 119 acres and resulting high grading costs. Guard leaders appear to have no interest in utilizing the North Wilkesboro-based 875th Engineering Co., which specializes in excavation with heavy equipment.
Hooper said he and Mayor Robert Johnson decided it was best to endorse renovating the existing facility here instead of insisting on building on the 119 acres. The North Wilkesboro commissioners agreed and Johnson sent a letter supporting this to the Guard.
Bondo identified an obscure part of the Connect NC Bond Act that he said lets the Guard renovate the existing armory in North Wilkesboro instead of building a new facility. This loophole in the Connect NC Bond Act should have been pointed out before people voted.
Renovating the Guard facility on Armory Road may be the best option now, but that doesn’t excuse state officials who misled voters. It’s an experience to remember the next time voters are asked to pass a bond referendum.